WR Ike Hilliard would be back on the field already if it was up to him, but the Bucs will proceed cautiously with his head injury
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden has reason to be concerned about Ike Hilliard. The veteran receiver absorbed a brutal hit from LB LeRoy Hill in the Bucs win over Seattle on Sunday night, briefly losing conciousness and getting a quick trip to the hospital.
Three days later, Hilliard appears to be fine and is even eager to play on Sunday in Dallas. But, yes, Gruden remains concerned about Hilliard, and his worries don't end there. A slowed-down walk-through practice on Wednesday – in essence caused by the team's high number of injuries – didn't provide much information as to how the team will look by the weekend.
"Really, I'm concerned about a lot of guys right now and I didn't see enough today to give you an answer [as to] who's up, who's out yet," said Gruden after practice.
Even with the team jogging through its plays, there were nine players who were either completely idle during Wednesday's practice or limited in some way. A pair of wideouts, Hilliard and Maurice Stovall (hamstring), were held out and a third, Joey Galloway, remains limited by a foot ailment.
Others who were limited included fullback B.J. Askew (hamstring), running back Warrick Dunn (back), quarterback Brian Griese (right elbow), guard Arron Sears (back), kicker Matt Bryant (right hamstring) and long snapper Andrew Economos (shoulder).
Dunn is usually given Wednesday off anyway, but in this case he will remain a concern for the rest of the week. He was unable to play in the fourth quarter of Sunday night's game after sustaining his injury.
"He's limited," said Gruden of the veteran tailback. "He participated a little bit in the walk-through, but we are concerned. Ike Hilliard and obviously Maurice Stovall and B.J. Askew, Cadillac [Williams], Galloway – we've got a lot of injuries on offense and they're mounting – Griese. We're concerned about it."
Of course, the Buccaneers know that they're not alone in the NFL in dealing with injuries. The Cowboys, for instance, expect to be without starting quarterback Tony Romo this weekend against Tampa Bay and just placed safety Roy Williams on injured reserve with a broken arm. To borrow from the debate on national economics, times are tough all over. That doesn't make it any easier to swallow a troublesome midweek health report, though.
"We've been hit hard now with injuries; I'm not going to sugarcoat it," said Gruden. "We lost both our fullbacks; a quarterback, he's been hurt; the right guard's been hurt; a number of our receivers have been hurt. It's tough man, it's tough."
In the end, Hilliard might be the least of Gruden's concerns. Because head injuries must be treated very, very carefully, Hilliard is obviously a serious question mark for Sunday's game, despite his desire to get back on the field. In the long run, though, it appears as if the ultra-tough receiver will carry no ill effects from that head-on collision Sunday.
Hilliard told Gruden that the play was just a good, old-fashioned NFL hit.
"That's why he's Ike Hilliard," said Gruden. "That's why he's 'Third-and-Ike.' He's made a living between the hashes his whole career. That's just the way he is. You just pray for guys like that that get hit. You pray that they're going to be alright. You feel for their families, his wife. They're concerned about their husband laying down there. There's the humanity part of this you've got to consider and I'm just glad he's alright. I hope he can play again for us soon because he's certainly a big part of our offense."
We'll Always Have Paris
The Buccaneers added two new players to their practice squad on Wednesday, although one of them will be very familiar to Tampa Bay fans.
Joining the Bucs' nine-man practice squad are wide receiver Paris Warren and linebacker Kyle Shotwell. The team had one open spot on that crew after the promotion of wide receiver Brian Clark on Saturday, and created another one by releasing fullback Ryan Powdrell.
Warren has been with the Buccaneers, in some fashion, every season since he was drafted by the team in the seventh round in 2005. He went to training camp with Tampa Bay again this summer but was released on August 26.
Warren is best remembered for the bittersweet combination of events at the very end of the 2007 preseason. The former Utah star was capping an outstanding August in which he led the team with 15 catches for 191 yards and four touchdowns during the preseason finale against Houston. Warren caught the game-winning TD in a 31-24 defeat of the Texans but suffered a serious leg fracture while being tackled as he crossed the goal line.
Gruden indicated that Warren had done enough during the preseason to win a spot on the 53-man roster before his injury, but instead the hard-working receiver spent the 2007 season on injured reserve. He recovered in time to report to camp in 2008 but did not play extensively in the preseason before being released.
Overall, Warren has played in eight regular season games, recording five receptions for 63 yards. All of those games played came in 2006 when he was on the active roster for the entire season, after splitting his rookie campaign between the practice squad and the 53-man list.
Despite his regular-season experience, Warren remains eligible for the practice squad, barely. A player permanently loses his practice squad eligibility if he dresses for nine games in any one season, or if he has been on a practice squad for three years.
Shotwell (6-1, 240) is joining his third practice squad since he came into the league as an undrafted free agent with the Oakland Raiders in 2007. He spent part of his rookie campaign on the Philadelphia Eagles' practice squad before going to training camp with the Indianapolis Colts this summer. Shotwell didn't make the Colts' active roster but he subsequently spent time on the Minnesota Vikings' practice squad before coming to Tampa.
Shotwell played his college football at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he won the Buck Buchanan award as the top defensive player in Div. I-AA for the 2006 season and the Pat Tillman award for character and work ethic at the East-West Shrine Game in January of 2007.
Powdrell spent one week on the Bucs' practice squad after being signed last week. Clark was on that unit for the first six weeks of the season before being signed to the active roster on Saturday. Clark played in the Bucs' win over Seattle and had one catch for 12 yards.
Fans to Alstott: Thank You, Too
On Sunday night, former Buccaneer great Mike Alstott got a chance to thank his many fans during a halftime ceremony honoring his recently-concluded playing career.
Thanks to some well-placed displays, Buccaneer fans were able to return the sentiment.
Outside of all six entrances to Raymond James Stadium on Sunday night, the Buccaneers placed enormous cards bearing pictures of Alstott and a lot of open space perfect for adding personal messages. All fans entering the stadium were invited to grab a pen and leave a note for one of their favorite Buccaneers ever.
All six cards were completely covered in ink by the end of the evening. They are currently on display in the lobby of One Buccaneer Place though they will eventually be handed over to Alstott so that he can read what the fans had to say to him on his special night.
Much of the writing, of course, was prompted by the sentiments one would expect. Thousands of fans took the opportunity to tell Alstott that he would be sorely missed on the football field. Countless others made sure the fullback knew he was their favorite player.
"You meant so much to us all," added one Kimberly Kent. Kris Perrone called Alstott a "great role model."
One young fan took the time to tell Alstott that he had been to the former Buc's very popular football camp the previous summer and had thoroughly enjoyed himself. The fan's signature was illegible, unfortunately, maybe because he was just too fast. After all, as he told Alstott in writing, he clocked the best 40-yard dash time at that year's camp.
Of course, most of the fans leaving messages hadn't had that sort of personal interaction with Alstott, but they still felt as if they knew him from his 12 wonderful seasons on the team. These fans were truly sorry to see their friend's career come to an end. As one well-wisher summarized:
"It just won't be the same without the A-Train."